lovehate: mashups and the artistic process


I have always been an advocate of the idea that art did not matter as much as the artistic process. I believed that while it was almost impossible to determine the difference between art and craft, the realization of the difference could become clear by understanding the process that went into creation. After all, how is that some people could claim that the ready-made movement of the early twentieth century was art when the process was perceived to be simply dumping a toilet bowl in an art gallery... pardon the vulgar double entendre. That the interpretation of a toilet bowl in a gallery could be scoffed at by some as meaningless and some as brilliant, by some as a waste of time and others as a masterpiece, shows the true subjectivity of the qualification of "art".

I maintain that the "art" in any piece is the direct result of the process which results in a work's existence in a specific time and place. I cannot agree that a Crane 31138 Economiser Bigfoot is a piece of art when it comes off the line although the design contains artistic elements. I have to deny the "art" qualifier on this piece not because of the way it looks, but because, in the same way I'm ready to accept a building or bridge as "artistic" but not "art", the form is encumbered by function. If the bridge or toilet designer was allowed to create without concern for function, I would be fully willing to accept a fire hydrant or a blender as a masterpiece. This said, the artistic process that places a coffee cup inside a blender that's mounted on top of a recliner, has the potential to be, in some people's minds, a masterpiece, but, in my mind (at the very least) art.

And I raise this aesthetic qualifier to do one thing: ponder how technology and the net is facilitating and encumbering the artistic process, art, and the artist.

The artistic process has been consumed by the mashup. Similar to a DJ taking samples and remixing them into a new piece, web wanderers have  become quite adept at meshing multimedia into bold statements or time wasters. The artistic process is still intact however. Whether it's a toilet in the 30s or a slideshow of pics from various Flickr accounts, the process to create something new from the sum of its component parts remains a valid exercise. Again though, the question of functionality creeps in.

The result of a creative process may not be art at all, because, indeed, that creativity may lie more in craft than in art. If someone creates a pimped out new banner for a website, I can't buy it as art because the primary function precedes the form for its own sake. And let's not pretend I'm holding up art as a paragon of achievement and dismissing craft somehow. A four year-old's fingerpainting may be truer to this definition of art than a Rolls Royce Silver Ghost, but I'll take the crafty car over the arty attempt. The final product of the mashup may have indeed gone through the process, but unlike the toilet, blender and coffee cup that I can buy, own, and reuse at will, almost everything that a creator has access to on the net is non-transferable. My concept of art, as a product, is that there must be an intrinsic sense of ownership on the part of the creator - not of just the process, but the result itself. While the net, with its worlds of content, inspires imagination and possibilities, the resulting mashup product can rarely, if ever, be called art.

And while generations of young and old minds are inspired to craft new works and enter into processes that verge on the artistic, there will have to be a concerted effort to move the truly gifted from a satisfaction with mashups that are never completely original to new and vital artistic works. Let's allow the net to inspire and motivate, but push beyond thematic assembly to free creation for the work's own sake.